Can video games improve a child’s IQ?

Studies and data have come a long way, but much remains to be determined as to what exactly constitutes intelligence and how, or if, it can be accurately measured.

It’s an age-old question: will your child’s IQ improve if they play video games? A May 2022 report is among the few that claim to have an answer. Let’s dive into it.


The relationship between games and intelligence is tricky

There’s a long history of scholars, parents, students, and gamers wondering if video games make us smarter, hurt our intelligence, have both effects, or have no effect. Research results have been mixed. There are a number of reasons for this.

For one thing, there are a lot of questions about what constitutes a video game. Should mobile games and console games be in the same category? What about puzzle games and shooting games? Do online multiplayer games have a different impact than games played alone? Additionally, a person’s day includes many activities and it is very difficult to isolate gambling as a single variable.

If one child loves video games and studying while another hates both, does that mean video games contribute to intelligence? If a child is more able to play video games because their family is financially better off than another child’s, how much of the difference in intelligence comes from gaming and how much comes from different economic opportunities?

And what constitutes intelligence? Are these level marks? IQ tests? Something else? Even that is up for debate. The authors of a May 2022 scientific report published by the journal Nature claim to have come at least close to answering some of these questions.

The paper, titled “The Impact of Digital Media on Children’s Intelligence While Controlling for Genetic Differences in Cognition and Socioeconomic Background,” corrects its findings for genetics and parenting. This is important because, according to the authors, “intelligence, education, and other cognitive abilities are all highly inherited.”

Although some may dispute the claim that intelligence is genetically predetermined, the authors also considered parental upbringing. Although the level of education does not necessarily correspond to household income, it is undoubtedly a good indicator of complex socio-economic data.

The research included baseline information on nearly 10,000 American children between the ages of 9 and 10, and follow-up with more than half of them two years later. The researchers also looked at ‘polygenic scores’ to account for ‘genetic differences’.

Intelligence positively impacted

The authors analyzed “screen time,” which included time spent watching videos, playing video games, and interacting with social media. It also analyzed intelligence using five intelligence measures. The results:

“At baseline, time spent watching and socializing was negatively correlated with intelligence, while gaming was uncorrelated. After two years, gaming had a positive impact on intelligence but socializing did not. had no effect (…) unexpectedly, watching videos also positively benefited intelligence.

The paper further states that not only was the game itself positively correlated, but the time spent playing was positively correlated. In other words, playing more means greater cognitive increases. It’s okay to be suspicious.

The study authors were the first to point out a few problems with their report, as should be the case for any group of responsible researchers. Some of these problems are the issues we mentioned above that plague all studies of this type.

Potential problems with the study

Screen time information came from survey data. It was impossible for researchers to know whether the reported games were smartphone games, console games, online or offline. In addition, survey data often faces the problem of respondents filtering their responses to make themselves “look better”. If the parents wanted to appear cooler or stricter, they might have some erroneous data.

There are also problems that the authors did not mention. The tests used to determine intelligence did not include an “IQ” test. They included word and image recognition, memory, spatial reasoning, audio response, and other similar measures. However, they did not include measures for language comprehension, math, logic, and other factors one might expect.

Arguably, the authors defined intelligence as a “skill in video games” and then determined that playing video games increased intelligence. It could also explain some of their mysterious findings, like why the videos increased “intelligence” but not socialization.

Watching videos contributes more to image recognition and audio response, which have been tested, and social media contributes more to intelligence through language comprehension, reasoning, and other measures that don’t. have not been tested.

How have other researchers approached play and intelligence?

Other similar studies have taken this into account and come up with different results regarding play and intelligence. A 2015 study published in SAGE Journals on game play and intelligence found similar results using similar tests, but “when analyzes examined all subjects at both the task level and the level of latent construct, almost all relationships between video game experience and cognitive abilities were close to zero.

Intelligence is a multi-faceted concept, and researchers on both sides of the table have carefully selected elements of intelligence that may or may not correlate with video games. And in its introduction, the authors of the 2022 study specify that they already expected their research to show a correlation between video games and intelligence.

healthy game

So can playing video games improve a child’s IQ? The answer to every good yes or no question is “sort of”.

There are aspects of intelligence that video games can improve and aspects of intelligence that they cannot. Video games, like most other things in life, are healthy in moderation. But they do not replace learning.

John C. Dent